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Introducing This Year’s Courage Fellows

Every year, I’m astounded by the commitment that so many students have made to preventing gun violence.

We’ve been fighting for stronger gun safety laws at GIFFORDS for more than a decade, and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon. But the success of the movement relies on a growing base—and the strongest part of that base is young people. They are the ones who have grown up knowing and experiencing gun violence, and they’re the ones with the unique perspective required to solve this crisis. 

That’s why I’m so proud to introduce you to our 2024 class of Courage Fellows. The Courage Fellow program at GIFFORDS launched in 2018 with the goal of empowering young leaders in the fight to save lives. We aim to provide the tools and opportunities they need to enter the gun safety conversation and fight for stronger gun laws. Past Courage Fellows have gone above and beyond our highest hopes, researching gun violence, running for office, launching new gun safety organizations, and testifying for stronger gun laws.

America’s gun violence crisis isn’t new—but uplifting the future leaders of this fight is how we’re going to make a real difference. I’m honored to introduce our new class of Courage Fellows.


Our experts can speak to the full spectrum of gun violence prevention issues. Have a question? Email us at


Cherie Animashaun

Cherie Animashaun is a first year student at Cornell University studying public policy. Growing up in the cities of Evanston and Chicago, Cherie has seen firsthand how gun violence cuts short the lives and ambitions of young people early. She has been a part of multiple March for Our Lives events and hopes to create more spaces for youth to collectively heal and voice their opinions. Cherie’s efforts to create safe spaces for children through education, policy, and literature has garnered coverage from the Washington Post and ABC News.

Saami Baig

Saami is a high school senior from Houston, Texas. Starting in 2021, Saami joined March for Our Lives Houston as a legislation team member. Coauthoring the Houston Policy Plan, Saami was appointed to the Harris County Safe Schools Commission to develop school safety policy recommendations in the third most populous county in the nation. Noticing a lack of youth representation in legislative processes, Saami collaborated with a Texas representative to draft HB 2076, a bill aimed at closing a loophole in domestic violence firearm prohibitions. Now, as the co-executive director of March for Our Lives Houston, Saami strives to develop data-driven policy solutions to gun violence.

Asheley Gelin

Asheley is a dedicated advocate and leader who channels her passion for service towards creating positive change. She is a junior at Florida International University studying economics with a minor in international relations and a certificate in Haitian studies and spirituality. Her journey as a fierce advocate against gun violence was catalyzed by a personal tragedy—her brother tragically lost his life to gun violence just two days before her birthday. Turning her pain into purpose, Asheley wrote powerful poetry that she titled “A Bleeding Mind” to bring awareness to the way gun violence not only impacts the individual but their loved ones and community. She has performed her poetry at different events in her community to bring light to this issue. 

Deepening her impact, Asheley serves as a UNICEF USA youth representative, addressing youth rights and concerns. She is involved in various roles where she works to amplify the voices of disadvantaged communities and foster collaboration. Some of those roles include her research position as a FIU Global Learning Fellow and as an Interreligious Dialogue Fellow. Asheley wants to mobilize her community to work towards preventing gun violence, as well as advocate for improved mental health resources.

Adriana Grijalva

Adriana is a sophomore studying political science at the University of Arizona with a minor in Spanish. After a shooting close to home impacted the University of Arizona, she became involved in gun violence prevention and is now a member of the Students Demand Action on campus. As a result of the devastating effects gun violence has had on communities, Adriana felt that more needed to be done. Adriana is excited to be a Courage Fellow and to continue advocating for the movement.

Julia Hayes

Julia is a senior at Oregon State University studying political science and social justice. Her advocacy surrounding gun violence prevention catapulted after the devastating 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her advocacy began in Sacramento, California, when she orchestrated her high school class to write letters to the survivors. She also led a school walkout to the California NRA office on the one year anniversary of the shooting. This led her to DC to intern for Congressman Mike Thompson, who is the chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. She has always felt empowered to do more by educating her peers on the importance of voting and speaking out. She looks forward to continuing her work alongside other youth activists to support commonsense gun laws.

Kya Hector

Kya Hector is a sophomore political science and community development double major at Howard University from Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is a passionate gun violence prevention activist whose advocacy work stems from her own experiences around community violence. She currently serves as a member of the Maryland State Advisory Group for Juvenile Justice, where she is a co-chair of the Emerging Leaders Committee. Additionally, she was previously a fellow for Cities United where she conducted research on the impacts of gun violence in Atlanta. She has also served as a Community Safety intern for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Joseph Kesto

Joseph Kesto is a student at Michigan State University studying neuroscience and public health. He began his advocacy to protect his three younger brothers from the gun violence epidemic, but he didn’t realize that he would be the one surviving a shooting. He is the president of March for Our Lives at MSU and also serves as a spokesperson for the organization. In this role, he organized the second March for Our Lives on June 11, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan, and lobbied in Washington DC for gun violence prevention. Furthermore, Joseph has worked with politicians such as Governor Whitmer to pass bills advocating for gun violence prevention and mental health resources.

Ananya Patil

Ananya is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan. Moved by the Oxford and Michigan State University shootings, she feels strongly about preventing gun violence. She believes gun violence is a multifaceted issue that should be targeted with comprehensive strategies encompassing both legislative measures and community-based initiatives. She is passionate about ending violence against women, particularly restricting access to arms for domestic abusers. Last year, she traveled to DC and advocated on Capitol Hill for legislators to support Biden’s Violence Against Women Act. Currently working in the University of Michigan’s central student government and SAPAC, she works to provide survivors on campus with the resources they deserve. She is empowered to work with GIFFORDS to further the gun violence prevention movement and influence positive change around the country.

Julia Plawker

Julia is a graduate student at the University of Michigan pursuing two master’s degrees, one in public health and one in social work. She currently works at the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention on multiple projects concerning school safety, youth violence prevention, and promoting safe storage among parents with young children. Her passion for this field stems from working directly with children in communities disproportionately affected by gun violence. In her future career she hopes to work with communities most impacted by structural racism and disinvestment to promote child development and well-being.

Charlotte Plotzke

Charlotte Plotzke is a senior communications and music major at Michigan State University. After a shooting occurred on her college campus in 2023, Charlotte became a prominent activist in the community with a passion to end gun violence in the US. She assisted in organizing multiple rallies after the shooting, mobilizing thousands of Michiganders across the state to join the fight against gun violence. These efforts led to the Michigan legislature passing a historic gun safety package. She plans to work in political communications, and is excited to dive deeper into the systemic issue of gun violence as a Courage Fellow.

Yamalí Rodas Figueroa

Yamalí Rodas Figueroa (they/them) is a resilient queer Central American immigrant organizer from Chicago’s South Side, with a profound commitment to gun violence prevention. Having experienced the loss of loved ones to gun violence, Yamalí’s journey intertwines with social justice advocacy within immigrant communities. Originating from mutual aid initiatives during the 2020 lockdown, they led the Butterflies In Solidarity campaign, fostering solidarity for undocumented students in pursuing higher education. Selected for the UCLA Dream Summer fellowship in 2023, Yamalí created a curriculum for youth programming at HANA Center. Now, as part of GIFFORDS’s class of Courage Fellows, Yamalí contributes to the fight against gun violence, sharing insights, and working towards a safer, more equitable future.

Brady Roland

Brady Roland is from Colorado and became involved in gun violence prevention in 2018. After the 2022 Uvalde shooting, Brady organized the 2022 Denver March for Our Lives rally. Following the rally, Brady founded a chapter of Team ENOUGH in Denver. Through the chapter, she planned an art show displaying the impacts of gun violence and helped efforts to pass gun violence prevention legislation in 2023. She is currently a freshman at Portland State University studying community development and is a senator on PSU’s student council as well as a member of the Oregon Student Association’s Council of Legislative Advocates. Brady currently interns for Keep Guns Off Campus and serves on the Board of Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation.

Maya Zuckerberg

Maya became a gun safety advocate following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Over three years with March for Our Lives Arizona, she served as a city lead and political strategist, and later as a political co-director. She assisted in creating and then joined the School Safety Taskforce in partnership with the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office. After leaving March for Our Lives, she temporarily returned to the organization following the Uvalde shooting to help lead in organizing another march. She attended the Summer Youth Institute at the Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy & Research. In addition to her advocacy work, she has worked on political campaigns for several gun safety champions. Maya serves as president of Arizonans for Gun Safety and is fighting every day to reduce gun violence.


Over 40,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence every year. In communities, courts, and ballot boxes nationwide, Giffords fights to save lives from gun violence. Will you join us?